I can be a real cheapskate sometimes.
So when my travel buddy and I were in Arequipa, Peru, and she asked if I wanted to check out the Santa Catalina Monastery, I initially took a look at the entrance fee and scoffed. 35 soles (12$) to get in? I had better things to spend the money on - like dinner!
Besides, just walking around a city is always free. And isn't that the most interesting kind of sightseeing?
Whatever she said to convince me, however, I'm glad she did - Santa Catalina wound up being the most arresting thing we saw in the entire city.
You see, even at less than a million people, Arequipa is busy. Arequipa is loud. You're constantly dodging cars and the cars are constantly honking even when you've gotten out of the way. But inside Santa Catalina, thanks to the looming stone wall which encircles the entire monastery, all sounds are shut out. From the moment you walk in, you're submerged in a city of silence.
Santa Catalina was originally founded as a convent in the 16th century, and witnessing the contrast between it and the city outside feels like stepping behind a mirror. While the nuns have all moved into modern buildings tucked behind the convent's historical centre, the core colonial buildings have been preserved as a heritage site.
The entire property is laid out to mimic a city, with streets named after Spanish cities running through it like a grid. Between buildings are open courtyards framed with marble and housing orange and lime trees in the centre. The walls are all either white, deep red or bright blue, and hidden in the eaves arching above you are delicate painted frescoes ringed in gold leaf.
Tiny, perilously thin staircases run up walls and over roofs, creating byways between kitchens and store-rooms. Pens for guinea-pigs are tucked behind the laundry courtyard, where huge ceramic jugs had been cut in half and laid open to catch water flowing from a central channel. Vines reach up coloured walls and curve over marble placards, and fountains with milky green water serve as make-shift fish ponds between old dormitories.
But it wasn't just the beauty of the convent that struck me - not just the flowers blooming by doorways, or the perfect contrast of red walls against blue sky, or the look of the white stone steeple in the sunlight.
It was the calm.
The entire site was cut off from the chaos outside. All traffic noises were shut out, the pedestrian traffic diminished. Inside, it was quiet. Truly quiet.
And quiet is contagious.
So we walked through the first arch, a thin black 'SILENCIO' painted above us, and went in silence through the first few courtyards and rooms. And as we sunk deeper into our silence, as we began to unwind from the travel exhaustion from the days before, the border crossings and the taxi bargainings and the endlessly sketchy bus rides, the quiet slowed us down. We took a seat on courtyard benches, we lazily people-watched the other travellers passing through, we took the time to stand in front of the murals for minutes on end and really look. We walked languorously, one foot slowly before the other, and let the scenery of vines and flowers and colour soak in around us.
Santa Catalina had been stopped in time, and soon enough it stopped us too.
I suppose I shouldn't be so quick to write off experiences because they cost more than I like. Our afternoon in the convent was exactly what I needed at the time - an opportunity to let the mind stop whirring and soak in the calm of a beautiful setting. We'd reached a certain velocity in our travels and I needed a respite.
Ironically, the calm we found might have even been because of the high entrance fee I was initially so wary of - maybe it scared off potential visitors, as there were far fewer tourists at the convent than at other sights in the city.
That afternoon reminded me that there's a time to budget, and then there's a time to get over it - because even though money doesn't create worth, sometimes it guards it.
(......and at the end of the day, I managed to find that dinner money somewhere ;)
originally posted @ anywhere but home: a [travel] photography blog ♥